Mthabisi Tshuma, Showbiz Reporter
Filmmaker Zoe Ramushu nee Chiriseri recently put the country on the map when her production Intelligent/Botlhale was showcased at the New York Africa Film Festival.
It premièred at Lincoln Centre in Manhattan, New York on May 14.
South Africa-based Zoe who is also a multimedia journalist has been doing very well in the industry as her film productions have been making waves abroad.
Her production, To The Plate was last year shortlisted for the BAFTA Student Film Awards.
Another, It Takes A Circus that she worked on alongside directors Gopika Ajan and Annick Laurent was a finalist for the 48th Student Academy Awards (Oscars).
Chronicle Showbiz caught up with Zoe last weekend.
She had just returned to her home in Cape Town from the UK.
During the interview, she opened up about how she has been able to use film as a source of happiness.
The inspiration to focus on film, Zoe, who was born in Bulawayo and grew up in Harare, said was a result of the motivation she received from her father.
“I knew I wanted to do something that would impact the people around me.
I always loved books, but realised film and television were more accessible mediums to speak to the average person,” said Zoe.
“My first project was a film titled My Perfect Date which was shot in Harare in 2015.
It was a reality television series that I shot in Zimbabwe using my aunt’s newly renovated kitchen.
I asked my local butcher and Spar to sponsor the project and that’s how we managed to get the project off the ground,” said Zoe.
She said premièring her film on an international stage was a dream come true as she gave detail of a true event.
“The film is called Intelligent or Botlhale, the direct translation.
This is the lead character’s name in the film and the name was chosen by the director of the film, my business partner Rea Moeti.”
Sharing the film’s synopsis, Zoe said: “Bothlale who suffers a mental illness makes new friends and finds love when he’s institutionalised.
The friends plan an escape to a fast-food joint, where they’ll live out their fantasies of being high society people, but their escape day collides with the shutting down of their institution.
Their lives collide with tragedy and death.
“The story is fictional, but based on the real crisis that happened at the Life Esidemeni (a tragedy that involved the deaths of 144 people at psychiatric facilities in the Gauteng province from causes including starvation and neglect),” said Zoe.
Reflecting on her film career, Zoe said penetrating the industry was no walk in the park.
“It’s a pretty closed network of professionals who know each other and continue to work together from project to project so it can be hard to break in.
It’s also not the most lucrative when you start out.
Many people have to either supplement by doing random odd jobs or change careers altogether in order to keep the lights on.
“However, once you have a sustainable model of income and a good pipeline of projects then the highs are really high.
Creation is a sheer act of will and there’s nothing that beats seeing something that existed only in your mind come to life, and get appreciated by others,” she said.
Zoe said one of the challenges that she has faced as a “young woman of colour” is being boxed into the “emerging filmmaker” category over and over.
“We’re forever emerging and have never ‘arrived’.
Labels aren’t the issue — it’s the budgets that accompany the label.
But eventually, your work speaks for itself and I also believe the grace of God sets you apart.
“I believe I’ve done my part as I’ve been nominated for the Student Oscars.
I’ve also been selected as a Reuters Fellow at Oxford University,” said Zoe.
As someone who has excelled in the industry, Zoe advised up-and-coming film practitioners to be up-minded in their work, something she is doing as she works on upcoming projects.
“Find your tribe of like-minded individuals and then get started doing whatever you can on set.
I learnt to serve at my church, His Presence Ministries International and to be helpful, eager, and available to do the jobs no one wants to do. That’s what gets you noticed and that’s what gets you far.”
Turning to her plans for this year, Zoe said she is producing two feature films, one for M-net and another for Netflix.
Highly learned, Zoe is a holder of an Undergrad — BA majoring in Law at Wits, an Honours and Masters in Arts in African Literature and Cinema at Wits and a Masters of Science in Journalism specialising in documentary filmmaking from Columbia University in the City of New York.
She is the third daughter of Apostle Charles (late) and Commissioner Petunia Chiriseri, both natives of Bulawayo. The 32-year-old is married to Herbert Ramushu.
Zoe who has featured in various commercials in South Africa featuring international brands such as KFC, Grandpa and Soul Candi runs her own production company, Chiriseri Studios.
She is a member of the Cannes Producers Network and The Gotham (formerly IFP).
She has seen success in various markets including her series Pretty Hustle, which was selected as the first and only episodic project to be presented at the Financial Forum of DFM.
She chairs the South Africa Department of Arts and Culture committee and is a member of the Reuters Institute 2021 at the University of Oxford.
So far, her work has been recognised on global platforms such as the Berlinale, Cannes, Morocco Film Festivals and has been featured in Glamor and Variety magazines.
Before becoming a filmmaker and multimedia journalist, Zoe studied and worked in the legal field.
She was an integral part of the team that prepared the 2018 Framing The Shot: Key Trends in African Film report, the leading analysis of African film, with the Goethe Institut and German Foreign Office.